NASA Tells MuckRock FOIA Requesters They'll Have To Start Providing Their Home Addresses

from the citing-nothing-but-the-feeling-this-is-probably-a-legal-requirement dept

FOIA clearinghouse MuckRock has been on the receiving end of government antipathy before. Local government agencies aren’t happy the service is able to work around location restrictions by offering proxies for out-of-state requesters. So far, this hasn’t done much to slow the flow of public records to MuckRock.

MuckRock users have been thwarted individually, mainly with FOIA fee requests ranging from $270,000 to $660 million. Various agencies have also cut MuckRock out of fee exemptions, claiming the service just isn’t journalistic enough to avail itself of fee waivers.

Dell Cameron of the Daily Dot reports a federal agency has decided to screw MuckRock users by making it more difficult to make requests. It’s not one of the expected enemies of transparency, however. It’s one that’s been historically very easy to work with.

The National Aeronautics Space Administration has begun rejecting public records requests from users of FOIA request-filing service MuckRock, which doesn’t provide what the agency calls a “personal mailing address,” even though the requirement appears to have no basis under the law.

This came in response to the Daily Dot’s request for documents related to President Trump’s “media blackout” order, where federal agencies were told to route everything — including social media posts — through the administration. In its denial of the Daily Dot’s request, NASA specifically called out the FOIA clearinghouse as somehow being in violation of nonexistent FOIA requirements.

Last week, following nearly two months of back and forth, NASA formally denied the Daily Dot access to any records—which may or may not exist—related to White House decrees affecting its use of social media and other forms of communication. The request, filed less than a week after Trump’s inauguration, was sent using MuckRock’s online submission system and contained MuckRock’s mailing address. “Please be advised, that everyone submitting a FOIA Request via Muckrock, who are not a staff members [sic] must provide their personal mailing address when submitting a requests [sic],” NASA’s FOIA officer, Josephine Shibly, wrote in a letter to the Daily Dot on March 10.

This rejection — with its nod toward nonexistent policies NASA’s FOIA team apparently believes exists — followed a few rounds of discussion between the website and NASA, in which the agency criticized the scope of the original request. It claimed digging up files related to Trump’s “media blackout” would force agency personnel to engage in “mindreading” and was not willing to aid journalistic agencies in “fishing expeditions.” It’s worst argument was that the documents weren’t of sufficient public interest to expedite handling.

This new antipathy towards FOIA requesters is due to administrative meddling. Any science-related agency seems to have obtained an overseer to ensure their messages align with the White House’s talking points. This appears to have been extended to cover public records requests. Between the terse communications with the Daily Dot and blanket, baseless demand for requesters’ home addresses — but only if the request is routed through MuckRock — the federal government appears poised to top [?] the transparency lows of the Obama era, albeit without the self-congratulatory proclamations of unprecedented openness.

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Comments on “NASA Tells MuckRock FOIA Requesters They'll Have To Start Providing Their Home Addresses”

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aerinai says:

Excuses Excuses Excuses

It’s worst argument was that the documents weren’t of sufficient public interest to expedite handling.

How is this even allowed to be used? If a journalist is using this to write a story or whatever, I don’t see how this argument could EVER hold up. If that was the case, agencies would never be compelled to release anything… not that isn’t already par for the course…

Bergman (profile) says:

Okay, so ignoring the law is illegal

Adding requirements not found in the FOIA violates statutory rights — and a conspiracy to do so is therefore a felony.

By the logic the government is applying, people could ignore subpoenas or even search warrants for bullshit reasons with equal justification.

The only difference between the two cases is the government has more force to bring to bear than individuals.

If the rule of law has given way to might makes right, why are we not already shooting? Our nation’s founders would be.

Anonymous Coward says:

None of this violates. Uch of anything. FoIA requests do require that the requester is identified and since these people dont work for muckrock its reasonable to ask that the requests go to someone rather than to the muckrock mailing address.

Muckrock is to blame really.. abusing the process is the problem.

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